Carola is a Christian writer and author of several books. She writes about Christian living, relationships, and other related topics.
If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine, goes into the mountains, and seeks that which is gone astray? And if he finds it, He rejoices more about that sheep than the ninety-nine which did not astray. (Matthew 18:12-14 - paraphrased).
This parable seems like a nice story but has deep implications for Christians. Like sheep, all of us have gone astray and turned to our own ways (Isaiah 53:6). The message is clear: God loves His people enough to search for them when they go astray and reclaims them.
Jesus, the Shepherd
When I read the acclaimed book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller, I was amazed at the high level of care needed to take care of sheep. Managing a flock is a lot of work.
Sheep have no survival skills. They depend on the shepherd and his sheepdogs to guide them, lead them to food and water, and keep them safe. Many stories throughout the Bible show God or Jesus as a shepherd who cares for the sheep, us.
The Sheep in the Flock
Here are some categories of sheep in a Christian flock. Some are more prone to wander away than others.
The Good Guys
This group likes to stay close to the shepherd. They love him and work on building a relationship with him. They willingly follow his instruction and guidance. These sheep recognize their master's voice and will not follow a stranger. These sheep make mistakes and get into trouble now and then, but they manage to bounce back. When a wolf in sheep’s clothing shows up, they recognize the stranger danger and run to the shepherd for help (Matthew 7:15).
The Angry Ones
Another group of sheep avoid the flock because they are mad at the world. They resent the shepherd because they feel that he allowed them to go through some trials they felt they did not deserve. The other sheep avoid them.
The angry sheep are often seen storming off to places where they could be in danger. Some of these sheep end up on the fringe of the group and might wander away. Because they are not plugged into the group or their shepherd, they easily become lost.
In their lost state, they have distorted images of the shepherd. They may think that the shepherd does not care about them and will not bother looking for them. Or maybe the sheep think that the shepherd will reject them because of their shameful past. Or they may be angry with the shepherd because they suffered injustice and hurt while under his care.
The Shy and Self-Conscious
Some of the sheep have trouble relating to others. They lack self-esteem. They fear rejection, so they tend to avoid relationships. They still carry the baggage of past hurts and pain close to the surface. Their heads are always hanging low, so they do not always look where they are going. This makes it easy for them to get lost.
These sheep are easily hurt and often skulk in isolated corners to nurse their wounds instead of turning to the shepherd for the balms that would heal them. They do not feel worthy of drinking at the best water holes or eating the best grass. They are afraid that the shepherd would reject them as worthless or condemn them if they come to his attention. Poor creatures – they are miserable.
The Black Sheep
Black sheep may fall into two sub-categories: the rebels and those that do not fit anywhere. They always seem to be on the fringes of the group and wander off, sometimes willfully. Some rebels pretend that they are following the shepherd, but in reality, they are going their own way. The next thing you know, they are stuck in a bush or falling down a black hole.
The black sheep who do not fit in are not sure if they want to follow the shepherd or not. They wander off to other pastures and forget their own resting place (Jeremiah 50:6-7). They get lured away by other shepherds who do not care about them and will abandon them when trouble comes.
How God Takes Care of His Sheep
Here are some characteristics some people have in common with sheep:
- Lack a sense of direction
- Are vulnerable and defenseless on their own
- Follow leader sheep blindly into danger without guidance
- Sometimes need help to get up
- Cannot carry burdens
- Cannot care for themselves when injured
Sheep will move in a group if they are frightened by noises and can kick. Mama ewes may kick anyone who goes near their babies. Otherwise, they need a shepherd to survive.
God takes care of us, even in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). We have food, drink, and anything else that we need. He leads the flock to still, clean waters because sheep cannot drink from a turbulent stream. Fast flowing water scares them.
The Good Shepherd carries the young in arms and keeps pregnant sheep and lambs close (Isaiah 40:11). He will lay down his life for his flock (John 10:11-15).
Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice, know Him, and follow Him (John 10:27). Jesus is also full of compassion for people who do not know him as well as His own sheep do. He sees them as sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:35-36, Mark 6:34). We can give him our burdens (Psalm 55:22).
The Good News
Well-known late author Dallas Willard explores Psalm 23 in-depth to reveal the many promises God makes to us in his book Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23.
The good news is that God pursues us, no what sheep category applies to us. He wants us in the fold where He can take care of us. Like a shepherd, God loves us and wants to scoop us up in his arms and carry us home.
How Are We Like Sheep? Christianity.com, Greg Laurie
Following God: How do we become like sheep? Christian Today, Claire Musters
Being Called A Sheep Isn’t A Good Thing, Union Baptist Association, Keelan Cook
Shocking Reasons Why God Compares Us to Sheep In the Bible, Mom Remade
© 2014 Carola Finch
Jack Jenn from Nelson Bay NSW Australia. on November 17, 2018:
I will never tire of the story of the lost sheep - at one time, either a long time ago or just now, we were all lost sheep. And so many of us are just like that one that went astray for whatever reason - so comforting to know that Jesus will search for us and gently carry us back to the fold - and I have certainly experienced that mercy.
Each and every one of us are all given a particular gift of ministry to be a help unto others and and it's usually after a believer reaches a point in spiritual maturity. Sometimes it can be difficult to know just what your own ministry is but you only have to ask and the Spirit will reveal it and lead you in it. And it's not always those who you might think, God often uses the most unlikely, you just need to be willing. Consider Paul, he wasn't an eloquent speaker, yet look how effective he became.
We should always be on the lookout for and recognise the bleatings of a lost sheep - you never know when God will bring one across your path.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on February 24, 2014:
Great explanation of that famous parable Carola. As long as you are following a good shepherd all is well, but I have found some to be 'wolves in sheeps clothing'. I think they have meant well, but their position went to their head. Maybe it's just I am somewhat of a black sheep...lol. Still, there is a good message here. Voted up.
Linda Rogers from Minnesota on February 12, 2014:
What a beautiful and inspirational hub on this parable. Voted up and hit many buttons. Thanks for the insight's on this :-)
Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on January 26, 2014:
Nice interpretation of a a great parable. I enjoyed it very much - Jesus' title as the Good Shepherd leads back to David in the Old Testament as God picked another shepherd to be king over His people.
Carola Finch (author) from Ontario, Canada on January 23, 2014:
Thanks for your comments. I try to be a good sheep, but I do have a little bit of rebellious black sheep in me.
Mackenzie Sage Wright on January 23, 2014:
I love the way your mind works, Billy. This has been a really interesting discussion of this parable in a way that can apply to the religious and non-religious alike. I found myself wondering what kind of sheep am I. Very thought provoking.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 23, 2014:
Carola, thank you for sharing your perspective on God's love as a shepherd, loving us no matter what kind of sheep we are. Still, I pray to be an obedient, fully-surrendered sheep.